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What is Montessori?

Montessori learning is a child-centered educational approach that emphasizes independence, exploration, and self-directed learning. Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 20th century and now popular worldwide, the Montessori philosophy is based on the idea that children are naturally curious and motivated to learn, and that they learn best when they are given the freedom to explore and discover on their own. The approach emphasizes hands-on learning and sensory experiences, and encourages children to develop their own unique interests and passions.
One of the key principles of Montessori learning is that children should be treated with respect and dignity, and allowed to develop at their own pace. Teachers work closely with each child to identify their individual strengths and challenges, and create a personalized learning plan that is tailored to their needs.
In a Montessori classroom, children are given the freedom to choose their own activities and work at their own pace, with guidance and support from trained teachers. The environment is carefully designed to promote exploration and discovery, with materials that are specially designed to be engaging and educational.
Overall, Montessori learning is a holistic approach to education that values the development of the whole child – intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically. It is an approach that encourages children to become independent, self-directed learners, with a deep love of learning that will last a lifetime.
Bodil Eriksson

Bodil Eriksson

Director of Curriculum & Primary Programs

The Top Ten Reasons Why Montessori is Successful

Hands-On Learning

Montessori uses hands-on materials and real specimens to make the learning process concrete and exciting. Learning is not in the abstract – it is real and relevant to the child’s level of understanding and everyday experience. This keeps students engaged deeply in the learning process, which helps them retain a love of learning instead of becoming bored.  

Dynamic Learning

Montessori is a dynamic learning approach. In a Montessori environment, many things are happening at the same time. Teachers may be giving separate lessons to different small groups while other students are doing independent assignments. Teachers monitor student lessons and work every step of the way. The benefit is that students are getting lessons right for them and are also learning to work on their own to accomplish tasks.


The Big Picture

In Montessori – the focus is always on the whole – the big picture. Facts are easily forgotten unless they are taught in a broader context. Montessori kids enjoy learning about “big ideas” - the essential concepts of science, geography, and history. They learn these concepts through inspiring stories and creative follow-up activities. Montessori students also continuously learn how to make connections between ideas in different subjects. The benefit is that Montessori students remember what they have learned at a deeper level.


Individualized Learning

Students progress at their own rate. In a Montessori school, there is no limit to how fast a student can progress. When a student is ready for a new challenge, the teachers are ready to help them to meet it. As a result, Montessori schools like OFS have students reading far above grade level, doing advanced math, learning research methods and utilizing technology to learn and to make presentations. OFS graduates entering high school, for example, are advancing to level 2 or 3 foreign languages, often taking Geometry or higher, and are frequently in advanced placement literature/writing classes. Of course, students who need support in a subject (and even advanced students often do), can get this too in a Montessori classroom where students receive individual attention.


Multi-Age Classrooms

Multi-age classrooms: Maria Montessori discovered the magic of multi-age classrooms over 85 years ago. Now, the concept has been adopted, in modified form, in many non-Montessori schools everywhere. A multi-age classroom taps into our natural desire to learn from others who know more than us and our joy in teaching others what we know. In addition, the multi-age classroom allows students to go through a 3-year leadership cycle, allowing students and families to stay with a team of teachers to build a deep relationship of trust and communication.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation: Montessori schools do not attempt to motivate by grades, threats, punishments, or rewards. Rather, with emphasis on choice and initiative, students take charge of their learning process in partnership with their teachers. Students do assignments not because of the grade they will get but because it has meaning and relevance to them. The reward of learning is the learning itself – not just a grade. In a Montessori environment, assessment can take many forms, including individual or group student projects and presentations – which build very strong communication skills.

Non-Competitive Learning

Non-competitive learning: Montessori students gain very strong self-confidence because they understand their talents and the areas in which they need to improve. Moreover, they learn to appreciate the gifts of others. How does this prepare them for the “real world”? The more solid students are in who they are – and the greater their ability to empathize with others – the better prepared they will be for future success.


Self-Organization: Montessori students begin to plan their days in preschool. At OFS, in grades 1-3, they learn to do a daily work plan in consultation with their teachers, which includes the lessons they must attend and the independent assignments they will do. When students graduate to grades 4-5, they begin to plan a week at a time, and in grades 6-8, they learn to look at the entire scope of a cycle of learning – about eight weeks. Along the way, they learn how to break down longer-term projects and assignments into actionable steps. The benefit is that Montessori students are very self-directed and capable academic students and far ahead of their peers when it comes to knowing how to do a research paper or study for an exam.


Thinking Outside of the Box

Montessori classrooms encourage students to ask questions and challenge assumptions. Students learn early on that their ideas are important –and that all great ideas come from deep thinking. Maria Montessori understood that the heart of learning is in the questions students ask. Moreover, where traditional learning focuses on “one right answer," Montessori encourages students to discover more than one answer where possible. The benefit is that students learn to think differently about topics and to appreciate many viewpoints.

The Greater Whole

Part of a community: Both the social environment and the curriculum in a Montessori school are powerful reinforcements of the idea that we are part of a greater whole. From 2 years old onward, students learn how to care for their classroom and each other. As Montessori students get older, they learn to acknowledge each other and to solve conflicts that will arise. In their curriculum studies, Montessori’s “great lessons” focus on our human family, the evolution of life, and the shared home we call Earth. Students learn to see their place in the community and the world and to understand that they have an important responsibility to support the well-being of our planet and its great web of life.

Montessori Learning by Class Level

A Walk Through Oneness-Family School

Little Stars Classroom (Ages 2-3)

Little Stars Classroom (Ages 2-3) 

“I Want To Do It Myself”

The Little Stars classroom is where our youngest students reside. A big part of being a toddler involves learning to care for oneself, and the teachers at this level emphasize independence, assisting the toddlers in learning to dress, wash their hands and faces, use the toilet, and keep track of their personal belongings. All of these practical life skills are important components of our Little Stars curriculum.

The first thing I hear when I walk up to the classroom is singing. A child is sitting by the restroom singing as he waits his turn to wash his hands before snack time. Another is deeply concentrating on putting her foot into her slipper, which she has removed before stepping on the balance cubes.     

Little Stars Classroom (Ages 2-3)

Little Stars Classroom (Ages 2-3)

The practical life area is full of activity—three little children are scooping, pouring, and sorting items according to color and shape. I observe two little girls reading a book and laughing out loud as they find a little felt worm on one of the pages. It is abundantly clear that these students are in the sensitive period for small objects and details. 

Montessori identified eleven different sensitive periods occurring from birth through the age of six: order, movement, small objects, grace and courtesy, refinement of the senses, writing, reading, language, spatial relationships, music, and mathematics.

Preschool—Kindergarten (Ages 3-6)

Preschool—Kindergarten (Ages 3-6)

“Help Me Help Myself”

Whenever I peek into the Sun and Moon Rooms, the children wave and greet me cheerfully. A little girl steps up and hugs my leg, others come up to tell or show me what they are working on.

Love is in the air! For the month of February, the students in our Children's Peace Garden have been learning about love, honesty, and colors. Secret Valentine projects for parents are underway. A healthy snack prepared by the teachers is available. 

As there are three age groups in the rooms, a variety of activities are going on at the same time. On any typical day in a Montessori classroom, you will find children working on a floor rug or at the table, and today is no different! I see that a child has laid out a three-part picture and nomenclature cards for the frog, matching them to physical models for each stage, while another is using a magnifying glass to examine objects that the students have discovered in nature. 


Preschool—Kindergarten (Ages 3-6)

In the math area, someone is working on the Hundred Board lesson, arranging number tiles from one to one hundred into a lined grid. A younger child works with Cards and Counters, laying out quantities to match numerals and identifying odd and even numbers. At a table nearby, a child uses the Stamp Game to multiply a number in the thousands, using dynamic regrouping skills in the process and recording his answer on paper. 

A staple material and one often recognized as “Montessori” are the sensorial materials such as the pink tower or brown stairs. I spot a child working to construct patterns and forms using the Pink Tower and Brown Stair, as he forms a strong sense of dimension, spatial relations, and patterns.

Preschool—Kindergarten 2

Preschool—Kindergarten (Ages 3-6)

In the language area, I observe a child working on handwriting refinement by tracing the forms of print manuscripts. An older child who is an emerging reader is spending time with a beginning reader book, supported by the teacher as needed, as she sounds out the text and uses sight word skills. A child is matching small objects to written word cards with their names.
How exciting to see an older child who formerly struggled with reading help a younger classmate as they attempt to sound out a word! Both children benefit from the mixed-age classroom—the older child is so proud of being able to help the younger child, and the younger child admires the older student and learns from them.
As Dr. Montessori said, "The essential thing is to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s whole personality."
Lower Elementary (Ages 6-9)

Lower Elementary (Ages 6-9)

"Help Me Think for Myself"

I walk upstairs to the second floor, where the Lower Elementary classrooms are located. The main classroom hosts most of the cultural and language materials, while across the hallway, you find the library and math area. I meet and greet students that are moving freely between the rooms. A first grader proudly shows me the birthday board with his baby pictures and gives me a summary of what kind of things his friends said about him during the birthday celebration. 

Lower Elementary (Ages 6-9) - 2

Lower Elementary (Ages 6-9)

The elementary-aged child is a highly social individual with a strong imagination, eager to explore their world and the human experience within it.

Dr. Montessori designed the Elementary program to nurture these characteristics. The Arbor classroom is designed to be calm and comforting, with sunlight, plants, and hands-on materials creating a welcoming environment.
It is evident that the teachers spark the imagination and understand the student’s need to interact with others. I observe students learning both independently and collaboratively. Some students are working with a teacher, while others are working with peers.
Lower Elementary (Ages 6-9) - 3

Lower Elementary (Ages 6-9)

Students are able to work either on the floor or at tables depending on their chosen work and their preferred mode of learning. They set their work up in a manner that feels comfortable for them, and the hands-on nature of the language materials makes even advanced grammar concepts approachable and enjoyable.

It is incredible how peaceful it can be in this classroom. Although the Arbor is our largest class at 35 students, all children are intently focused on what they need to do for a given lesson. What’s even more amazing is how evident it is that they are happy doing it!

I observe students progressing at their own pace, using control of error and teacher feedback to guide their work. Control of Error is the quality within the materials that enables a child to complete and correct the task without assistance.

Lower Elementary (Ages 6-9) - 4

Lower Elementary (Ages 6-9)

The Cosmic Curriculum, a cornerstone of Montessori philosophy, gives students a concept of their place in and impact on their community and the world.

Lessons start with the whole (i.e., the universe) and work toward the parts (i.e., cultures, history, geography, species, etc.). This gives the child a sense of perspective—within the big picture of the universe, everything the child learns is connected. When understood as connected parts of a whole, new information gains relevance, an essential part of capturing a child’s interest.

Math, language, geometry, geography, history, science, and literature are just a few subject areas covered in the "Five Great Lessons" of this curriculum. These standard Montessori lessons provide a “Big Picture” to demonstrate how the sciences, art, history, language, and geography are interrelated.

Upper Elementary (Ages 9-12)

Upper Elementary (Ages 9-12)

"Help Me Help Others"

My journey around the building takes me back downstairs to the Academy class. Inspired by the Montessori tradition, the teachers give students ample opportunities to explore, gain knowledge, and demonstrate a thorough understanding of their learning. 

I notice that each student is working independently but responsibly.  A student in between work is observing a classmate getting a lesson. At the big round table, a group of students is engaged in a lively discussion regarding concepts of climate change. Meanwhile, another student is immersed in a novel, seemingly unaware of the activities around him.

Upper Elementary (Ages 9-12) - 2

Upper Elementary (Ages 9-12)

I am impressed with the students' drive to work through a lesson, equation, or research question; it is intrinsically motivated, not teacher-driven.

The students are given guiding questions, and then they are free to explore and research questions such as “How did the natural features of Earth develop over time?”, “How does physical geography affect living things?” and “What are the needs common to all people?” 

One of the students excitedly explains that this year, as part of their studies of early humans, the Academy class will venture into the woods to practice early-human-style survival skills such as shelter building and food gathering. This trip is designed both to stimulate their imagination about the adaptations of early human species, as well as to learn how best to cooperate and communicate to accomplish a goal in a group.

Middle School (Age 12-15)

Middle School (Ages 12-15)  

"Help Me Find Myself"

I make my way to the middle school classroom. I cannot stop smiling as I bump into students I have known since they were toddlers in our Little Stars program. It is heartwarming to see how they have grown into independent, compassionate, and curious young adolescents.

When you walk into the middle school classroom, you will see students working together with friends or by themselves on assignments from their weekly Natural World/ Social World/ Language checklists. The students are free to sit at tables, on the bleachers, or in the hallway to complete their work. There is a general hum of students discussing, laughing, and getting work done. 

Middle School (Age 12-15) - 2

Middle School (Ages 12-15)

Our middle school is characterized by a student-centered approach that enables students to manage time, exercise choice, organize themselves and practice self-regulation within the classroom.

Group work gives students the opportunity to engage in process skills critical for processing information and evaluating and solving problems, as well as leadership skills through the use of roles within groups, and assessment tools involved in weighing options to make decisions about their group's final answer.

Thank You!

Thank you for joining me on this walk through our Montessori classrooms! I hope this tour has given you an idea of how the Montessori philosophy is practiced in each classroom and each facet of our curriculum. We welcome you to visit the school for a tour and learn more!

- Bodil Eriksson

Director of Curriculum & Primary Programs